“We are a Smart and Caring Nation” – Governor General


OTTAWA – Service, whether it is to family, community, or country, is the highest, most noble of callings.

I begin by saying thank you to Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Canadian people for this call to service. My wife and I accept it with joy—as we contemplate the role of Canada in the years ahead—and with gratitude at the opportunity to serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada. Less than a month ago, Sharon and I visited Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at Balmoral, Scotland, for an amazing visit. And we were treated—so warmly—like family.

I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessors, including the remarkable women The Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé and The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, who won the love and respect of all Canadians as they carried out their duties. On behalf of the Canadian population, allow me to warmly thank my immediate predecessor The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean for her remarkable work.

Finally, I salute the women and men in our Armed Forces. I am honoured to become your Commander-in-Chief. I would also like to recognize the efforts of those military women and men who are working so hard to help the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to rebuild their communities after the recent hurricane.

As we look forward to celebrating our 150th birthday seven short years from now, what will our nation look like and how will we get there?

Two Latin words capture our challenge succinctly—Contemplare Meliora—to envision a better world. They mirror the motto of the Order of Canada – “they desire a better country”.

To help us with our vision for 2017, turn back the clock 400 years to the first Governor of what we now call Canada—Samuel de Champlain. David Fischer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, has written a book called Champlain’s Dream. In it, he contends that Champlain was misunderstood. Champlain is remembered as a great explorer and a warrior. But Fischer portrays him as a man of peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and innovation, and a builder of permanent societies. This was Champlain’s dream for a new order in a new world. So many of those characteristics are present in the Canada of 2010.

We are a Smart and Caring Nation.

A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to the maximum.

A nation where all Canadians can succeed and contribute.

But there is much work to be done to fully achieve our vision of a Smart and Caring Nation. I believe it is essential

  • To support families and children,
  • To reinforce learning and innovation, and
  • To encourage philanthropy and volunteerism.

As many of you know, I have spent much of my career in the university world. As an educator and administrator, I have been privileged to spend much of my life around students, and I’ve often felt that I have learned from them. In my new role, I hope to work to serve as a bridge to the next generation.

My first pillar will be supporting families and children.

I would like to first tell you a bit about my own family.

I was Sharon’s first date when she was 13, in her first year at Sault Ste. Marie Collegiate Institute. Forty-six years of marriage later she is my best friend, my inspiration, and the wind beneath my wings.

We have five daughters, Deb, Ali, Sharon Jr., Jen and Sam, and all of them are in public service. And we have seven grandchildren, our miracles, who bring us great happiness.

All the important things in life I have learned from my children. And now I am following them into the public service.

Let me add that we lived in Montréal for two decades. We have come to love the French culture and language and we consider them a national treasure.

We are looking forward to meeting Canadian families from all walks of life, all backgrounds and hearing their stories about what Canada means to them and how they see Canada in 2017 and beyond.

We are looking forward to meeting families with sons and daughters who have served in Afghanistan. And we join in the sorrow of those families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country. Our veterans have paid heed to the call to service, and have made our country proud. And my wife and I intend to be with them every step of the way.

We are looking forward to meeting Aboriginal families and children and learning from them. We all have much to learn from First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. We are excited about being able to share in this vital part of our collective history.

And we are looking forward to meeting families who have chosen Canada as their home, determined to provide a brighter future for their children.

We know that Canada will be one of the most diverse countries in the world by 2017.

And I am firmly convinced that all of these families, no matter where they live or what their background is, will have more in common than not. Each family brings new patterns to the varied Canadian tapestry and enriches it by their presence.

My second pillar will be reinforcing learning and innovation.

We need to ensure that all Canadians have equal access to education and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

These opportunities must be available in both of our official languages. Our linguistic duality is a precious asset and contributes to our strength as a nation. I salute the Francophone and Acadian communities who continue to innovate, and find ways to ensure that French continues to thrive across the country.

I look forward to learning from Canadians as I visit their communities.

Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. In my case, they number in the hundreds.

During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today let it be “Cherish Our Teachers”.

I have always had great admiration for the teachers and educators of this country.

As we consider our vision for 2017, I ask “Can we have equality of opportunity and excellence too?” I believe that no nation in history has worked harder than Canada to ensure equality of opportunity. How do we square that with excellence as well? For me, the answer is through our public educational system which is the most inclusive in the world.

How do we ensure accessible education for all so that all Canadians can realize their full potential? And how do we reconcile universal access with stellar achievement? And how do we continue to innovate in order to compete with the world’s best? Innovation at its simplest is crafting a new idea to do things better. Innovation embraces both technological and social innovation. We want the same continuing commitment to excellence in our learning and research institutions that we saw in our Canadian athletes who brought us a record 14 gold medals at the 2010 Winter Games, we need the kind of innovation that has made “BlackBerry” a household expression. We want to emulate our Olympic and Paralympic athletes by constantly striving for excellence in all that we do.

We want to be the Smart and Caring Nation; a society that innovates, embraces its talent and uses the knowledge of each of its citizens to improve the human condition for all.

When we set our sights together, we can do better and inspire each other to achieve great things.

My third pillar will be encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.

Canadians have a long history of coming together and helping one another. The importance of community can be seen across the country, in our rural communities, and in our cities and towns, such as the ones I grew up in, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

I see examples of this “coming together” in the farming neighbourhood where we live. A Mennonite barn-raising with people gathering on the scaffold of a new barn bringing their diverse talents and energy to help a neighbour in need.

I think of Rick Hansen, who this past March marked the 25th anniversary of the day he began his Man in Motion World Tour, and he continues to inspire Canadians everywhere.

And just two weeks ago, millions of Canadians across the country came together to honour the spirit and the achievements of Terry Fox, and the 30th anniversary of his run underscores how Canadians have embraced his cause.  In his introduction to his book Terry, Douglas Coupland recalls seeing the thousands upon thousands of names of everyday Canadians in the Fox archives and writes “Collectively, those names testify to something divine—our nation, our home and our soul.”

Examples of generosity and charity abound across this great land.

We create our families and promise a better life for our children, we energetically develop our individual talents, collaborate to magnify them and improve the health and prosperity of our families and communities across the land, and we care about our neighbours.

We will continue to foster and instil the importance of being a generous and caring nation, an idea cherished by Canadians of all backgrounds and all ages.

The 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 will reinforce Canadians’ sense of pride and engage all citizens.

Service to country shaped us, service to family and community sustains us, and this tradition of service will carry us forward into the future.

I am looking forward to meeting and serving Canadians, coming to their communities. I am truly honoured by this call to service.

I recall the closing lines of my predecessor, General The Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier’s inaugural address: “In our march forward in material happiness, let us not neglect the spiritual threads in the weaving of our lives. If Canada is to attain the greatness worthy of it, each of us must say, ‘I ask only to serve.’”

In Canada where we work together, putting aside our differences and assisting those among us who needed a helping hand, we have built a society that is the envy of the world.

I see my role as a bridge in bringing people of all backgrounds and ages together to create a Smart and Caring Nation, a nation that will inspire not just Canadians but the entire world.

Let me end with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

“Some people see things as they are and wonder why. We dream of things that ought to be and ask why not.”

David Johnston

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